JASPER, Tenn. - Jasper Police Chief Tim Graham says drugs and gangs are a problem in any town, and anyone who says they aren't isn't telling the truth.
"It's bad here, just like it is everywhere," Graham told the Jasper Board of Mayor and Aldermen last week. "Anytime [officials say they] don't have a drug problem, you've got somebody that doesn't know what they're talking about. There is a problem, and I'd be lying if I said there wasn't."
Graham, who was asked to assess the city's drug and gang problems as part of a department report, said recent laws to prevent or monitor the sale of ingredients used to make methamphetamine have helped lessen that problem in Jasper.
"Meth labs have really dropped," he said. "For a while, it was the number one thing. You couldn't go anywhere without stumbling across a meth lab."
Most of the drug problem in Jasper is related to students bringing prescription medications they find at home to school, Graham said.
"They're bringing meds that they find at home," he said. "I'd say that's the biggest percentage of our drug problems."
Alderman Steve Looney said he fears gangs are a growing problem in the area, too.
"I think [our police force] is doing a good job, no doubt about it," he said. "I don't want to see Jasper get into a major problem like that. It can happen in small towns. I've seen it happen."
Looney said if the police department needs more resources and money to combat any drug or gang problems, he's prepared to vote for whatever is necessary.
While gang elements are in Jasper, Graham said, the problem isn't as bad as it is in some other areas.
"I hesitate to use the term 'wanna-be' because if [potential gang members] want to be, they are going to be," he said. "They may not be as organized [as gangs in larger cities], but they're here. We've seen bits and pieces, but nowhere near what some of the problem areas have."
Working with other agencies, such as the 12th Judicial District Drug Task Force, helps immensely in combating some of these problems, Graham said.
"We try to deal with it the best we can," he said. "We're small. One good thing about being a small department is there is going to come a point in time when you need help, and we've got access to that. When you sit back and try to handle it by yourself, your problem is going to grow."
Ryan Lewis is based in Marion County. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.